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A lump-sum payment of workers compensation death benefits awarded to a construction worker's widow should be based on the total weekly comp benefits paid to the woman and her dependants, and not just the portion allocated to the worker's wife, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled.
Jason Ash worked for Millennium Restoration & Construction Services Inc. in Lake Ozark, Mo. and died after he fell down an elevator shaft while on the job, court records show. In 2009, the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission awarded weekly workers comp death benefits of $742.72 to his widow, Tiffany Ash — $495.15 of which was allocated to her two children and $247.57 of which was allocated to Ms. Ash.
Ms. Ash remarried in December 2011, records show. Per Missouri law, the labor commission granted Ms. Ash a remarriage benefit “equal to the entire death benefit due for a period of two years” that the state typically awards to widows and widowers. The commission calculated the lump-sum payment of $77,242.88 based on the Ash family's total weekly benefit times 104 weeks.
Millennium appealed, contending that the lump-sum should only have been based on Ms. Ash's allocation of $247.57. The employer's argument was based on wording in Missouri's workers comp law saying that the lump-sum remarriage benefit would cease “the periodic benefits to which such widow or widower would have been entitled had he or she not died or remarried.”
A three-judge panel of the Missouri appellate court on Tuesday unanimously upheld Ms. Ash's lump-sum award. In its ruling, the court found that the wording referenced by Millennium only referred to the state's periodic death benefit and not the one-time remarriage benefit.
In its opinion, the court said the Missouri Legislature “specifically chose to include the qualifying language 'to which such widow or widower would have been entitled' in addressing the weekly death benefit, but it imposed no such limitation in reference to the remarriage benefit ... We therefore presume that the failure to impose such a limitation in explaining how the remarriage benefit should be calculated was intentional.”